You could look it up

Public servants trying to reconcile their programs with privacy laws and regulations will soon have a new tool at their disposal.

The Privacy subcommittee of the Public Sector CIO Council (PSCIOC) has developed what it calls the world’s first software tool for privacy analysis. Demonstrated at the Lac Carling Congress in May, the Privacy Landscape Tool contains a database that will allow users to co-ordinate common approaches and cross-jurisdictional initiatives, says Eric Lawton, senior policy advisor in Ontario’s Access and Privacy department.

“There was no other tool that we could use or adapt for this purpose,” Lawton told delegates to Lac Carling. “This is the first time a tool has existed in the world for privacy analysis.”

In its first phase, the Privacy Landscape Tool has been loaded with 30 federal, provincial, territorial and municipal privacy acts, 30 regulations, 20 program acts, 20 policies, guidelines and tools, and 15 privacy issue analysis reports supplied by experts in the field. Eventually, the database’s designers expect that it will need to contain hundreds of records on privacy legislation, program regulations, policy and standards across Canada.

Users will be able to search the database by keyword subject, information type (primary legislation, regulation, program, policies, guidelines and tools), domain (child protection, government, health, private sector, vital statistics), category (personal information: definition, business contact information) or privacy issue, such as data sharing or the US Patriot Act.

The tool is also designed to answer questions such as “How can I exchange personal information with another jurisdiction?” or “What health rules apply to inter-provincial billing for out-of-province health services,” among many other queries.

Both Lawton and Chris Norman, executive director of strategic planning and policy in the office of B.C.’s chief information officer, warned that the tool is “not a silver bullet” that will solve the increasingly complex issues of privacy that intersect in cross-jurisdictional projects.

“This tool will be useful for finding the basic information you need to get started in understanding the privacy issues in Canadian jurisdictions,” said Lawton. “You still need to … check with your legal counsel, and take what you’ve discovered in the privacy tool to make sure that those solutions are accurate for the environment that applies to your particular program.”

The tool is designed for bureaucrats at all levels of government, and for privacy experts as well as newcomers to the privacy field. It has been created as a stand-alone tool that could be copied for each jurisdiction within its own desktop station. Lawton plans, however, to make it a web-enabled tool as soon as possible, so that everyone can have one version of the software that they can add to as well.

“The population and maintenance of this tool will be critical, so one of the things the privacy subcommittee will be looking for is for jurisdictions to appointment someone who will be able to continue to populate this information,” Lawton said.

The Institute for Citizen-Centred Service would be an ideal permanent home for the Privacy Landscape Tool, says Lawton, because it already hosts a research repository and a common measurement tool. He hopes the Institute will take over long-term administration and management.

The real advantage of the tool, Lawton said, is that it brings together information as well as tacit knowledge of the environments in which privacy issues operate. Eventually, the developers hope to provide the tool to the public and to other countries.

“The ultimate goal here is to enhance the cultural knowledge of what these privacy requirements are and what we need to do to comply with them,” Lawton said.

Lawton, Norman and the subcommittee will present a business case to the PSCIOC this fall for funding to roll out the prototype and enhance it. The group is still road testing the Privacy Landscape Tool and plans to incorporate users’ comments and a consultant’s report.

“I would like to see it rolled out by the end of the year, at the latest,” says Lawton.

Laura Eggertson ( is an Ottawa-based freelance journalist